Review: Fabulous Beast and Liam O Maonlai in Rian at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 & 25 October 2011
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Thursday 27 October 2011

Fabulous Beat and Liam O Maonlai 'Rian' 24-25 Oct, Sadler's Wells. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

*Rian* is one of the most unusual dance performances staged at Sadler’s Wells in recent years. This was not down to content, style or theme but rather that it came across as a sort of prolonged music video – not in an MTV style, more that it was about the music, with the dance as an accompaniment.

And the music is outstanding. The tracks taken from Liam Ó Maonlaí‘s 2005 album Rian combine traditional Celtic song and music with a variety of world music, thus making way for choreography that is rather tribal in feel. Fabulous Beast’s Artistic Director, Michael Keegan-Dolan, has choreographed a very naturalistic looking show. In parts the dance appeared to be pure improvisation, with dancers simply reacting to the music. This was the desired effect that Keegan-Dolan intended; he collected his movement material (the programme notes listed 108 individual movements) from watching the dancers respond to Ó Maonlaí‘s music.

Every element of the staging screamed stereotypical ‘Irish’. Adam Silverman’s lighting was always green, varying only from bright to dim. Doey Lüthi’s costumes for the female dancers were cloth dresses and sturdy shoes in a throwback to ‘harder times’. The small harp used in the opening section is so entwined in popular culture with Guinness that you couldn’t help but think of the drink.

Musically, Rian is a joy to listen to. Cormac Ó Beaglaoich, Martin Brunsden and Maitiú Ó Casaide are outstanding musicians, led by the multi-talented Ó Maonlaí. The central jazz section could have gone on all night – if performed in a dark jazz club, with drinks on tap. This just highlighted that the music was always the main event. Keegan-Dolan doesn’t enforce a strict style for how the movement is to be performed, so each dancers training and personalities really emerged and augmented the ‘natural’ feel of the show. Saju Hari, Louise Mochia, Mani Obeya and Louise Tanoto really excelled in this style of performance and were pleasing to watch.

The only problem with this naturalistic dance performance is it failed to excite. The performance was slow; Ó Maonlaí carried a harp to the middle of the stage, walked to a piano and lit a candle, 3 male dancers performed a short sequence in silence, a stage hand entered to set a chair next to the harp, the music started, dancers joined in, 1 hour and 40 minutes later they all stopped.

Rian could be a great informal performance but in the theatre setting it just didn’t have enough to hold my attention.

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